Canada obviously has a huge stake in the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama fails to approve it — a decision he recently put off yet again — the Canadian oil industry will have a tough time getting its abundant tar-sands crude to seaside ports. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently came to the U.S. to make the case for the pipeline in person, as did Canada’s ministers of foreign affairs and natural resources and the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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And now our neighbor to the north is focusing its powers of persuasion directly on the American people. The country just launched a taxpayer-funded, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign extolling the virtues of tar-sands oil to U.S. citizens. From The Vancouver Observer:

To support the government position and its travelling ministers, Ottawa has launched a $16 million marketing campaign that includes a new website and newspaper advertisements in the US to promote Keystone KL. The thrust of the campaign is the promotion of Canada as a reliable supplier of oil and a “world environmental leader” in the field of oil and gas development.

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The millions of dollars being spent on marketing efforts and road trips is unsettling to many in the scientific and environment community.

“I think it’s pretty inappropriate for government ministers to be salesmen for particular industries particularly when opinion in Canada is so divided,” Sierra Club of Canada Executive Director John Bennett told The Vancouver Observer in an interview. “We cancelled regulations, we backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, we’ve had four different plans with three different (emission reduction) targets and each time they announced targets they were weaker and further off.”

The federally funded campaign comes two months after the Alberta government purchased a full-page Sunday New York Times ad promoting the pipeline as “the choice of reason.” According to The Globe and Mail, ads “targeted at lobbyists and lawmakers” appeared last Monday, May 13, on Beltway-insider sites The Hill and Politico, and are slated to run later in other influential publications.

Go With Canada, the government’s newly launched website, promotes the idea of the Keystone XL pipeline as a crucial component of the U.S.-Canada alliance. “America faces a choice,” it states. “It can import oil from Canada — a secure and environmentally responsible neighbor that is committed to North American energy independence — or it can choose less stable offshore sources with much weaker environmental standards.”

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The Globe and Mail reports:

The taxpayer-funded campaign doesn’t solely focus on TransCanada’s private $5.3-billion pipeline proposal designed to link the vast oil sands reserves with massive refineries along the Gulf coast and thus provide the vital access to major markets that will, in turn, permit further oil sands development. There also is a major effort to portray Canada as a leader in curtailing greenhouse gases and environmentally responsible. Both claims are apparently intended to deflect attacks by anti-Keystone XL groups.

But some of the figures the government’s website touts to back up those claims have already been called into question, says CBC News:

The site asserts that “Innovation and research drives improvement in the oil sands — GHG emissions have dropped 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011.”

In fact, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions more than tripled between 1990 and 2011. The emissions intensity per barrel of oil fell 26 per cent.

CBC also notes that this “current promotional onslaught has been years in the making,” with meetings as far back as March 2010 between the Canadian government and oil industry to start hashing out their communications strategy.

Will the marketing money work? Obama is, after all, the one with the final say — but it looks like the Canadian government, seeing what a fractious issue the pipeline has become, is counting on the president’s tendency to take what he assumes to be the politically safe route.

But when half of Americans don’t even know what the Keystone XL pipeline is [PDF], any information campaign — for or against — has its work cut out for it.

h/t: Fiona Woo at World Future Council